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Remember, sir, my liege,
The natural bravery of your isle; which stands
As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in
With rocks unscaleable, and roaring waters;
With sands, that will not bear your enemies' boats,
But suck them up to the top-mast.*
It is probable from this and other passages that our forefathers attributed the wonderful deliverance they had experienced, in no slight degree, to that ever moving barrier of waters which surrounds the cliffs of Albion, and keeps her free from hostile foes. The same idea appears in King John, when England is described as
That pale, that white-fac'd shore,
Whose foot spurns back the ocean's roaring tides,
Even till that England, hedg'd in with the main,
And confident from foreign purposes.+
It may not be out of place to quote a parallel passage from the present laureate, in which he uses the same idea, though we cannot help feeling that the isolation of Britain is gradually becoming a thing of the past—
God bless the narrow sea,
Which keeps our Britain, whole within herself,
A nation yet, the rulers and the ruled
Some sense of duty, something of a faith,
Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,
I wish they were a whole Atlantic broad.
I shall conclude this paper with the dying words of one whose name will ever be connected with this county, the great son of a great king, John of Gaunt, "time-honour'd
• Cymbeline, Act iii, Scene 1. Tennyson's Princess.
+ King John, Act ii, Scene 1.
"Lancaster, "-on his death-bed, with his bodily powers
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this ENGLAND,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth.
THE GREENWOOD OF SHAKSPEARE.
(READ 19TH JANUARY, 1865.)
I NOW come to the second part of my subject, the merry greenwood and its inhabitants, and Shakspeare's intense love of the beauties of the country and wonderful power in describing them,-a power so great that the Puritan poet of the next generation speaks of him as
Sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,
Warbling his native wood notes wild.
In the forest in that most poetical of plays, the MidsummerNight's Dream, the two bands of lovers meet with their extraordinary adventures; thither the rustics resort for their rehearsal, choosing a green plot for their stage, and a hawthorn brake for their tyring-house; there the Queen of the Amazons is led by her lover to hear the music of the hounds. Again, in As You Like It, the various characters find refuge in sylvan fastnesses from the tyranny of an usurping Duke, and there
Exempt from public haunt,
Found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
To a similar scene Sir Valentine fled, having forfeited the favour of the Duke of Milan-there he became the leader of a band of outlaws, and found consolation for the disappointment of his hopes, as he says:—
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook, than flourishing peopled towns:
• As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1.
+ Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act v, Scene 4.
There, in Love's Labour's Lost, the King of Navarre and his courtiers receive the embassy of the Princess of France and her ladies; there, beneath the spreading trees, they forswear their vows of woman hate, reading their sonnets to their lady loves, and engaging in a merry fight of words. It was beneath the avenue near Portia's house that Lorenzo and Jessica, looking upwards to the starry firmament, "thick "inlaid with patines of bright gold," whispered the pretty words of love and joined their touches of sweet harmony to the orbs of heaven,
Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins.*
It was whilst hiding in
the pleached bower,
Where honey-suckles, ripen'd by the sun,
that Beatrice first heard the strange tale that she was beloved by Benedick, the witty bachelor. The scene of Cymbeline is laid partly in the forests of South Wales. Lear on a heath in the south of Britain. Several of the historical or chronicle plays lead us into the woodland. And it was beneath the blasted oak of Herne the hunter, that the wicked old knight received the last punishment from the satyrs and fairies of Windsor.
Having so often laid the scene of his plays in the forest, we need not wonder that Shakspeare has many times recounted the sights and sounds of the woods.
The birds chaunt melody on every bush ;
The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun;
And whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds,
* Merchant of Venice, Act v, Scene 1.
+ Much Ado About Nothing, Act iii, Scene 1.
As if a double hunt were heard at once,
Let us sit down, and mark their yelling noise :
Whiles hounds and horns, and sweet melodious birds,
Shakspeare is ever ready to remove his actors from the busy hum of men to the silent forest glade or open champaign, and to preserve in immortal verse the simple scenes of the English common, or the hedgerow, or the sports of the woodland. He is entitled to the place of a prince among the true lovers of nature; but the scientific man, whose enjoyment is confined to the classification and elaboration of his subject, to cataloguing varieties and inventing formidable names, must not look to our poet for sympathy. For instance, in Love's Labour's Lost, he says,
These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights,
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk, and wot not what they are.+
First, a few words on the birds of Shakspeare. His poetry shows that he was well acquainted with them and their habits; it is evident that,
From these wandering minstrels,
He had learnt the art of song.
Even Bottom the weaver, when he was belated in the Fairies' wood, cannot refrain from breaking out into a chanson in praise of the feathered choristers of the grove
The ousel cock, so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill,
The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,
The plain-song cuckoo grey,
Whose note full many a man doth mark,
Titus Andronicus, Act ii, Scene 3.
+ Love's Labour's Lost, Act i, Scene 1.
Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act iii, Scene 1.